After Gemini: French scientists launch observatory



Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Scientists hope to find alien Earths

Scientists are looking to the cosmos for signs of life elsewhere in an effort to strengthen the link between human history and the science of future life.

In an attempt to highlight the connection between science and civilisation, French astrophysicist Jean-Francois Lyotard and British astrophysicist Richard Dawkins were named “ambassadors” for the project.

They will open the 2020 Astrophysics Week later this month.

Organisers said the aim was to demonstrate the immense power and usefulness of science and its keystone, astronomy.

As scientists seek to hunt for alien Earths and are alerted to natural phenomena, such as the 2018 lava eruption in Mexico, scientists will convene a panel to discuss and debate how science is perceived.

Mr Lyotard and Prof Dawkins said that the hopes and aspirations for the next generation of scientists had come a long way over the past three decades since the astrophysics week was first held, and were aimed at “helping them to build bridges and strengthen the links between science and our civilisation”.

The week, held twice a year since 2006, invites government scientists and experts to convene and discuss major scientific discoveries of the week.

More than 220 scientists have attended since 2006, but the first seven years were wholly dominated by the prospect of alien planets and interstellar travel.

This year, the week was dominated by the December event, when more than 500 new discoveries were announced in just a few days.

Apollo 11 mission

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The crowd-sourced discovery of one thousand exoplanets came first. Then cosmologist Steve Salisbury of Cambridge University, working in conjunction with Amazon, published a digital catalogue of exoplanets that needed to be confirmed.

Many of the large exoplanets eventually discovered are gigantic gas giant systems where their orbits are swirled up or cooled down.

This design feature means that they have atmospheric structures similar to the Earth’s mantle or Sun’s corona.

It is impossible to say where these planets formed and whether they started out as gas giants or already had a rocky core, so all of these exoplanets still need to be confirmed.

Then on 7 December astronaut Buzz Aldrin announced from the moon on an “interplanetary broadcast” that he and fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins and Michael Collins had detected magnetic anomalies on Mercury and Earth.

They were aware of the ISS’s new cosmic-ray detectors, which were set up to do similar work.

Astronomers are hoping to find evidence of life on the previously exoplanet planet Alpha Centauri B, which is 40 light years away and hosts the closest Earth-like world.

These are the highlights of the 2020 Astrophysics Week, but the ten days include a workshop on how astronomers could improve the visibility of exoplanets during the heat of the summer in North America and a conference on LISA, a global project to map the nearest star systems for our precise measurement of their mass and phase.

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